Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Have Italians Invaded Spain?

Church Door, Haro, Spain

I was delighted to "invade" Spain recently on a Duvine bicycle tour through the Riojo wine region (highly recommended!).  The Italians, of course, got there long before me.  Here is the Spain chapter of Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...
Me and Stuart Laycock with Trajan -- A Spanish-born Emperor
"The Roman invasion of what is now Spain took place over a long time and involved a number of campaigns and numerous clashes. The emperors that ruled Rome at the apex of its power, Trajan and Hadrian, both grew up in what is now Spain.

The Romans first arrived in Spain during the Second Punic War. With Hannibal off to invade Italy, the Romans took the opportunity to attack the Carthaginian Empire that Hannibal’s family had built up on the Iberian Peninsula.

After a long series of campaigns involving multiple armies and commanders, the Romans eventually defeated the Carthaginian forces in Spain and took control of areas previously controlled by Carthage, mainly along the southern and eastern coasts of Spain.
Trajan's Column, Rome, Italy
And Rome’s campaigns in Spain had only just begun. The first decades of the second century BC saw assorted rebellions and clashes; and then in 181 BC, the First Celtiberian War broke out after more tribes rebelled. The result was a Roman victory, and the war ground to a halt in 179 BC.
Then in 155 BC, the Lusitanian War broke out, involving much action on what is now Spanish soil. A massacre by Roman troops ended that war in 150 BC; but war erupted again in 146 BC as a man who would become legendary, Viriathus, led the Lusitanians against the Romans. This bitter war, fought both on territory that is now Portuguese and on territory that is now Spanish, dragged on until 139 BC, when Viriathus was assassinated by three of his own men.

Meanwhile, to the north, the Romans had become engaged in a titanic struggle against the city of Numantia. The war finally ended in 134 BC when Numantia fell to besieging Roman forces.
In 132 BC, the Romans took the Balearic Islands.
Roman columns in Barcelona, Spain
Temple of Augustus (
War broke out in Spain in 80 BC, in which Roman commander Sertorius allied with local rebels to take on pro-Sulla Roman forces. Sertorius was eventually assassinated by his own side.
Plenty more fighting linked to Rome’s civil wars followed in Spain. Then in 29 BC, Augustus launched the Cantabrian Wars to take control of an area in northern Spain that remained outside Roman control. Within ten years, the war was mainly finished. More minor clashes would ensue, but after a process of conquest taking about two hundred years, the Roman occupation of Spain was finally finished.

In the early fifth century, invaders who had crossed the Rhine and then crossed Gaul arrived in Spain, producing yet more fighting.

15th Century Castle (Castillo), Spain
And Italians were fighting again in Spain during the Middle Ages. For instance, Benedetto Zaccaria commanded Castilian forces in the late thirteenth century; and Spain became deeply involved in wars in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

During the Renaissance, the Spanish Borgia family would rise to the height of the papacy with the ascension of Pope Alexander VI. His bastard son, Cesare Borgia, would launch many an invasion in Romagna before his ultimate exile and imprisonment in Spain.
Lord Nelson, Trafalgar Square, London
And more Italians fought in Spain after the Renaissance too. (More Spanish troops fought in Italy as well.) For example, during the Napoleonic Wars, Italians could be found fighting on both sides. Significant numbers of Italians troops were in Napoleon’s forces in Spain, but the British commanders also had Italians on their side. For example, at the Battle of Castalla in Spain in 1813, two Anglo-Italian divisions were among the forces that repelled desperate French assaults on their defensive position near Alicante. And about 115 Italians were among those serving on Admiral Nelson’s ships at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Italians again fought in the Carlist Wars in Spain in the nineteenth century; and in 1870, an Italian, Amadeo of Savoy, a son of King Victor Emmanuel II, was selected to be King of Spain. He found the job impossible, and in 1873, he had had enough and gave it up.

In the twentieth century, Italian troops played a central role in ensuring victory for Franco’s Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. This Italian-assisted victory had long-term consequences on the development of Spain that were felt into the Cold War.

The Italian effort during the Spanish Civil War started with air power, as Italian aircraft attacked the Republican fleet in the Straits of Gibraltar. They then airlifted Nationalist troops from Africa to Spain, a crucial step in giving Franco the ability to challenge the Republican government on the Spanish mainland.
Corpo Truppe Volontarie, Spanish Civil War
Soon Italy was also sending tanks and trainers to help the Nationalist side; and then it was sending troops to fight the CTV, Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Corps of Voluntary Troops), supported by heavy artillery and aircraft.

An Italian offensive in March 1937 against Madrid— the Battle of Guadalajara—achieved only limited gains against determined Republican opposition, and Mussolini gave orders to increase Italian efforts. In October of that year, the Italian presence was openly and officially admitted.
Italian troops fought on all fronts in the war and in a large number of clashes. Italian aircraft also saw extensive action, and 175 pilots died in action. Three Italian planes participated in the bombing of Guernica. At sea, Italian Navy surface ships and submarines also sank Republican vessels and merchant ships.
Church Door, Ezcaray, Spain
Italian troops played a decisive role in some of the key actions of the war. In the north in August 1937, they were heavily involved in the capture of Santander. In the spring of 1938, they took part in the Aragon Offensive, which struck a decisive blow against the Republican forces in that part of northeastern Spain. And in early 1939, they played a leading role in an offensive in Catalonia that eventually reached the sea and cut the Republic in half. In April 1939, the Nationalist victory was complete.

Over three thousand Italians, however, fought on the Republican side in Spain, joining units such as the Garibaldi Battalion of the International Brigade.

During World War II, Spain remained neutral, though it was friendly to the Axis cause. The Italian Navy took advantage of a derelict tanker, the 4,900 ton Olterra moored in the waters near Algericas, by installing members of the X Flottiglia MAS inside its hull. From this base in Spanish waters, they launched a series of attacks against shipping in the Bay of Gibraltar with two-man minisubmarines called Maiale (pig).

Spain joined NATO in 1982."

Travel Notes: Special thanks to Jimmy and Alex of

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